Jaroslav Pelikan, a church historian, has written, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
There is nothing wrong with tradition. Tradition in its best sense is tied to all of our brothers and sisters who have come before us. It’s their legacy bequeathed to us. But traditionalism is to receive their legacy and not build upon it. In effect, to become a stagnant, dead faith, tied to the past with no meaningful pursuit of God’s continued touch, inspiration and movement in the present.
One example of this is our worship preferences. Those who are convinced that their taste in worship style is the one and only style approved by God, will often say, “We need to do songs that are more worshipful.” So I ask, “What does that mean?”
Typically, the answer is “slower, softer and quieter.” I get that. That’s your preference but don’t call your preference more worshipful. Or are you saying that David was not being more worshipful when the Bible says “he danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6.14)? In fact, David had made such a scene with all his worshipful leaping and dancing, that Michal, the daughter of Saul despised him. She rebuked David, telling him how undignified and how unworshipful his frenzied dancing was.
David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD's people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor" (2 Samuel 6.21).
David in essence says, “What you consider undignified for worship, I do not. And I’m going to celebrate and have a good time in the presence of God. Who cares if I look stupid to you. Who cares that I’m not doing it the way you want it done. I’m not doing this for you. I do this for God.”
Tradition is not a bad thing. Traditionalism is. Traditionalism insists that God can’t inspire new songs, new musical styles, new art and communication tools or expressive forms of dance - that God is tied to what He did in the past, and in particular, my past, and only those things that flood my heart with feelings of nostalgia qualify as worship.
That’s not worship. At least it’s not worship of God. It’s worship of the self. Paul wrote in the book of Romans, “Focusing on yourself is the opposite of focusing on God” Romans 8.7 (The Message). When worship is self-centered, it becomes a consumer product.
Frequently churches like Springcreek are criticized for precisely that reason. Because the church has drums, guitars and multimedia, we’re accused of pandering to consumerism. What I want you to know, it’s not the style of music that dictates consumerism. It’s the attitude of the heart. More often than not, the people that make these accusations are often the ones most guilty of consumerism.
Consumerism means to focus on the self, the needs of the self and the experiences of the self. When the focus of worship is how it makes me feel versus what we are actually doing in worship – we’ve lost the point. We’ve become worship consumers. While feeling good may be a by-product of worship, that is not the intent – what that really amounts to is worshipping experience. Worship, unlike most of the other things we do in life, is not supposed to be focused on us!
Worship is all about ascribing unsurpassable worth to God. Celebrating the “WOW!” of His love for me, His goodness and His kindness. Don’t worship your experience. Worship God and you’ll have a full experience.
There was a church some years back, that went through an experience like this. They realized that some of the things they thought were helping them have a fuller experience of God were actually hindering them. It began to dawn on them that they’d lost something. That maybe, their focus had turned too much on themselves and their experience instead of what they were supposed to be doing in worship.
Now, don’t get me wrong, everything looked great. They had wonderful musicians, a great sound system and they were singing lots of new songs. But they started to notice that once the people would enter in, they would wait to see what the band was like, how good the sound was, or whether they were personally “into” the songs chosen before engaging.
The pastor picked up on the problem and took a pretty drastic course of action. He decided they would strip everything away for a while, just to see where the people’s hearts were. The pastor stood up and said, ‘When you come through the doors of the church on Sunday, what are you bringing as your offering to God?’
During this time of struggle, the worship pastor, Matt Redman wrote this song…
“When the music fades,
All is stripped away,
And I simply come;
Longing just to bring something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart.
I’ll bring You more than a song,
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear;
You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship,
And it’s all about You,
All about You, Jesus.
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it,
When it’s all about You,
All about You, Jesus.”
Worship is all about Him! It doesn’t matter to me whether our style is traditional, contemporary, rap or reggae. What matters to me (and should to each and everyone of us) is whether we are ascribing indescribable worth to the One Whom we have gathered to celebrate. It’s not about me. It’s all about You, Jesus!